Victims First, which supports victims of crime and abuse across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of coercive control and emotional abuse in relationships.
The campaign is called ‘Know this isn’t Love’ and focuses on early warning signs of controlling behaviour and emotional abuse to help victims identify any potential signs within their own relationships and seek support.
Coercive control became a criminal offence in 2015 and involves an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse by a perpetrator that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
Although many people associate domestic abuse with physical violence, coercive control recognises the damaging impact of other forms of abuse in relationships as well. Some examples of this type of abuse include:
- Isolation from friends and family
- Depriving someone of basic needs, such as food
- Monitoring their time and activities
- Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what they can wear and when they can sleep
- Repeatedly putting them down, such as saying ‘you’re worthless’
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising someone
- Controlling their finances
- Making threats or intimidating
The campaign focuses on various aspects of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour and includes nine examples of different behaviours people may experience in this type of abusive relationship, for example, isolation, manipulation, threats and control. These are told through both male and female examples and also include examples from same sex relationships.
Victims First recently surveyed victims of coercive control across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and had 670 people respond, describing 811 relationships. Some key findings included:
- A third of people who responded to our survey have been in more than one abusive relationship
- Half of the abusive relationships began when the victim was under the age of 25
- 45% of people who responded to our survey were in the abusive relationship for more than 10 years
The most common types of behaviour that victims faced was verbal abuse, isolation from friends and family and emotional abuse, including gaslighting (manipulating someone into doubting their sanity).
- 79% had experience verbal abuse, shouting and name calling
- 74% had experienced gaslighting or emotional abuse
- 71% had been isolated from their friends or family
- 62% had been victims of extreme jealousy or obsessive behaviour
- 53% had been manipulated into doing things they were uncomfortable with
- 51% had experienced their finances being controlled
- 48% had been threatened with violence to keep them controlled
Victims First is managed by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley and anyone affected by coercive control or domestic abuse can access support through Victims First on 0300 1234 148 or online at www.victims-first.org.uk.
Matthew Barber, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner said: “Controlling and emotional abusive relationships have an extremely damaging impact on victims’ health and wellbeing. Victims are unable to live their lives to the full and it can slowly erode their confidence and self-belief. Due to the psychological abuse they may be living in constant fear and uncertainty, feeling watched and controlled at all times, resulting in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
“The primary aim of the Know this isn’t Love campaign is to help people experiencing abuse, some who may be in an early stages of a relationship, to recognise controlling and abusive behaviours and encourage them to seek help.
“This type of abuse is present across society and can impact both male and females. It’s important we recognise and acknowledge it and not keep it behind closed doors.
“If anyone does feel that the behaviour they are facing in their relationship is abusive I would encourage them to contact Victims First on 0300 1234 148 for support.”
Wendy Walker from Victims First said: “Abusive behaviour in a relationship is not only physical violence, it can be isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your time or behaviour, threats or verbal abuse, putting you down or controlling what you do or wear.
“Victims often describe it as feeling like they are walking on egg shells, never knowing what behaviour to expect. This can create an enormous sense of anxiety. It is also not uncommon for people experiencing this type of abuse to be left confused and not sure what is happening and whether it is abuse. Abusers will often blame the victim and use a psychological technique called gaslighting to manipulate the victim into doubting their sanity.
“If anyone needs help then Victims First is here for you. We know it can be hard to describe what you have been experiencing but if you contact us we will listen to you and we will work with you to get you some support.”
Louise who experienced coercive control in two relationships said: “It is important to recognise that they won’t be abusive or controlling at all times, in fact they are likely to have redeeming and positive qualities; good with kids, generous, funny. But just because there are good points in the relationship that doesn’t discount the abusive behaviour.
“I didn’t recognise it as abuse at the time and I think I normalised the behaviour. It was many years later when I was being trained to facilitate Freedom Programme that I really confirmed it was controlling and abusive. I was young, still a child really, and no one around me at the time pointed out it was abuse so raising awareness is important.
“For anyone who is in an abusive relationship I would say seek out some support so that you can begin to see the patterns of abusive behaviour. I have a kind husband and a happy family now. You can survive this as well and you can move forward and have the life you dreamed of, nothing is impossible.”
Isabella who experienced coercive control said: “If you think you might be in an abusive relationship then listen to your instincts, they are there for a reason. If you feel something isn’t right then reach out for support and talk to someone in the field of domestic abuse.
“I know leaving a relationship is a hard decision and it takes time to make. But remember above all no one deserves to be treated this way, you deserve better.
“My partner often told me that he would break me but he never did.”
Case Study - Louise
Louise first met her boyfriend when she was a teenager and the controlling behaviour began a few months into the relationship. At first she was flattered by the intensity of it and thought that as he wanted to spend so much time with her he must really care but as time went on his controlling and abusive behaviour worsened. He would verbally and emotionally abuse her by calling her names and making degrading comments about her appearance. Although he was sometimes violent the emotional abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour were far more frequent and took an impact on her confidence and self-belief. He would tell her what she could wear and who she could spend time with, slowy cutting her off from friends by manipulation and making untruthful claims about them. The relationship lasted one year, and off and on for a further year or so.
A while later at the age of 17 she began another relationship with a new boyfriend. Although the relationship was good at the beginning and he couldn’t have seemed more different to her first boyfriend he too began to show abusive behaviour after a few months. He verbally abused her into having sex and would control what she did, who she saw and what she wore. He used intimidation, violence and threats of violence to make her do what he wanted. They went on to live with each other and the abusive behaviour continued. When she ended the relationship four years in he began stalking her to convince her to resume the relationship, even making threats to kill himself and her if she didn’t take him back. At the time of the relationship she didn’t realise his behaviour was abusive and thought he just had anger problems. It was years later, and really confirmed after doing training to facilitate a domestic abuse survivors programme called the Freedom Project as part of her job, that she was able to truly identify the patterns of coercive behaviour in both the relationships and realise that it was abuse. She has since received further support through personal therapy and is now in a healthy and happy relationship. Her experience has driven her to help others and she has facilitated domestic abuse programmes to help raise awareness of abusive and unhealthy relationships.
Case Study - Isabella
The abuse in Isabella’s relationship started straight away with both controlling behaviour and aggressive sexual contact. He would use manipulation to force her to do what he wanted often sulking or refusing to speak to her if he didn’t get his own way, forcing her to take the blame and apologise. As the months went on the abuse worsened. Her boyfriend would no longer allow her to see her friends and when she was away from him he would monitor her activities and keep track of where she was. He would accuse her of cheating and go through her social media accounts to delete any male friends, eventually closing down her accounts completely. Her phone was also checked regularly and he would confiscate it to ensure that she couldn’t call anyone.
Over time the psychological torture increased and he would convince her she was going crazy by doing things like hiding her possessions. He would call her names and make degrading comments about her intelligence and claim that no one could love her. As he often refused to let her sleep, her mental capacity was drained through sleep deprivation. She was living in a state of fear and uncertainty, never sure when the next incident would happen or what mood he would be in.
He took control of her finances, forcing her to do things, including sexual acts, to earn money for necessities such as sanitary products or food. Violence or the threat of violence were also used as a tool for control, in particular to force her into sexual acts, and he would make her stand against the wall or kneel on the floor for hours if she refused to do as he said. Even when the relationship ended after a number of years he still tried to maintain the abusive behaviour and control.
- Victims First is managed by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley. It provides free emotional and practical support to all victims and witnesses of crime or abuse, as well as family members of victims. It is available across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and can provide help regardless of whether or not the crime has been reported to the police.
- To speak to a member of the Victims First team and to receive support please call 0300 1234 148.
- You can also find more information or make a referral for support online at victims-first.org.uk